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The Tale of the Tape

The Tale of the Tape

The Tale of the Tape

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Anyone watching the women’s beach volleyball competition in last year’s Summer Olympic Games couldn’t help but notice some strange looking tape on the shoulder of one of the members of the US gold medal-winning team.  Much was made in the media about this novel treatment of Kerri Walsh’s injury (tendinitis), though a good deal of the interest was probably generated more by the multi-colored, seemingly haphazard arrangement of the material than by any scientific explanation for the effectiveness of this procedure.

The name of this technique – Kinesiotape – also lent a certain caché and mystiqueto this system.  Even casual observers of athletics are familiar with standard athletic taping; this was clearly something different.  But is it?

Kinesiotaping – a technique developed by Kenzo Kase, a Japanese chiropractor, some 25 years ago – has become very popular over the past 5-10 years in the US among physical therapists, chiropractors, and athletic trainers.  Made of various grades of elastic material, kinesiotape differs from standard athletic tape in form and intent.

Whereas most traditional athletic or physical therapy taping is designed to offer support and stability to a joint or muscle group via a fairly rigid material, kinesiotape uses a very elastic fabric to achieve a variety of objectives.  According to Kase, this type of taping offers the following benefits:

  • Improved proprioception (position sense) as a result of skin stimulation
  • Alignment of fascial (connective) tissues
  • Creation of increased space above injured/inflamed tissue by lifting fascia and soft tissues
  • Provides sensory stimulation to assist or limit motion
  • Assists in the removal of edema (swelling)

All of these purported benefits sound wonderful, but unfortunately, there is very little scientific evidence to date to support these claims.  There have been a few studies reporting clinical benefits, but they have been mostly small pilot studies and case reports.

One higher-level, randomized clinical trial investigating the short-term effect of kinesiotape (KT) application on reducing pain and disability in subjects with shoulder pain (due to tendonitis/impingement) appeared last year in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy (July 2008). Two groups of West Point cadets were randomly assigned to either a therapeutic or sham KT application.  Where there did appear to be an immediate benefit to the therapeutic group in improvement of pain-free shoulder abduction range of motion,this only last one day.  After that, there was no difference between the two groups at Day 3 or Day 6 with respect to range of motion or on any pain and disability outcomes measures.

Kinesiotape has been and still is used for a wide variety of orthopedic and neurological conditions, including running injuries.  While there is a substantial amount of anecdotal support for this intervention, the scientific jury is still out on the question of whether it really does anything more than provide a benefit through placebo effects.